I wrote this blog post back in January 2007 (“The Church Covenant“). I realize that church covenants are often “hot button” issues. However, I’m concerned about the way that church covenants are often used today to separate the body of Christ into exclusive, isolated groups. In many churches, believers only consider themselves responsible for caring for those who are part of their “covenanted community”. Yet, in Scripture, being “covenanted” with another believer is never even mentioned. We are members of the same family and thus are responsible for one another. I hope you enjoy this article.
The Church Covenant
As a child of God, I am in covenant with God – the New Covenant. This is a covenant that he made with me, that he secures, and that he regulates. He sets the responsibilities and duties for this covenant. He also determines the blessings of this covenant. In ethical terms, this is a “political covenant” as opposed to a “social covenant”.
Our church (that is, the church that our family meets with regularly) also has a covenant. Each person who desires to “join” our church covenants with one another.
Now, church covenants can be a very good thing. Church covenants can remind us of the responsibilities and duties that we have toward one another: responsibilities and duties that are given to all believers by God. In fact, Scripture speaks frequently of these requirements. Most of them include the phrase “one another”: love one another, accept one another, forgive one another, encourage one another, admonish one another, etc.
However, church covenants can have a detrimental effect on believers. Many times church covenants are used to separate the church into exclusive groups.
For example, I was recently asked if I felt that I was responsible for meeting the needs of a believer who was not part of “our church”. (Note, this was not asked by someone who was a part of our church.) I answered, “If God reveals a need to me, and provides the means to meet that need, then I am responsible for meeting that need, whether or not that person is a member of our church.” The other person disagreed with me. Why? Because I was not “covenanted” with the other believer. According to this person, I was only responsible for those with whom I was “covenanted”.
Also, the idea of “covenant” is sometimes suggested as a limit to church discipline. A person is only responsible for “disciplining” a believer if he or she belongs to the same church, i.e. they are covenanted together.
In these two examples, the “church covenant” is used as a means of separating the church into mutually exclusive groups.
However, I cannot find an example in Scripture of one believer being “covenanted” with another believer. Every Christian is in covenant with God, and because of the New Covenant, we have responsibilities, some of which describe how we should relate to other believers. In Scripture, these responsibilities are not limited to certain believers. Yes, I understand that I cannot carry out these responsibilities toward people that I have never met. I am not arguing for that. Instead, I am arguing that we are responsible for how we relate to all believers that God brings across our path, not just those believers with whom we share membership.
I enjoy reading the church covenant with our church. It reminds me of the responsibilities that God has placed on me… but not just toward certain believers… toward all believers.